Engraved with the words, “Oeil de L.A.R. Le Prince Louis d’Orleans Monseigneur le Dec de Nemours 1869” this extravagant and meticulous silver gilt box heralds from France and is graced with a portrait miniature eye of this royal family member. Painted in watercolor in oval form, this represents a man’s right eye of vivid blue iris and nearly photorealistic painting quality.
The artist, most likely Eugène Drault, painted this with consummate skill and the extreme realism one finds at this time, particularly in eye miniatures. One feels as if they are looking directly into the eye of the Prince, here seen gazing forward. Outstanding goldsmith techniques have brought forth a superb box.
Often said that the eye is the window to the soul, there seems to be no more enthralling and captivating image than that of an eye made even more so by being set into gold or precious metals. Certainly it is one of the most requested and sought after types of jewelry we see. The mixture of painting and jewelry is a combination that makes for fascinating pieces as well - and portraits of eyes cannot be any more evocative. Dating back to the turn of the 18th century, portrait miniatures of eyes, often referred to as lover’s eyes, became quite a fashion. (see this section under “Reference” for more information). Eyes this late in date are more unusual, but we do see during this time various portraits of eyes set into boxes and jewelry. Here certainly is a sentimental keepsake for the family, most likely the Prince’s wife. Certainly we can envision this resting upon her ormolu and rococo dressing table being lightly showered with a fine coating of face powder falling from the toilette of Princess Victoria.
Note the use of pattern to bring forth the richness of this basically simple form and transform it into another realm. Several borders are utilized for surrounding the eye – geometrics, plain linear patterns, linked scrolls forms and an outer band of saw toothed patterns. The top rim of the box is deeply worked with flower and leaf motifs interspersed with a single flower repeating through the border. The background is deeply punctuated with tiny texture giving it richness and depth. The main body of the box is a very fine hand engraved basket type pattern – a marvel of tactile and visual lights and darks. The bottom has a repeated border of S key or wave pattern. A spatial delight, the bottom is a guilloche geometric radiating forth with energy and life.
The box is in mint condition with little of note besides a tiny bit of wear to the inner rim where it fits into the lid. There are two eagles' heads on this rim and another French poincon or mark which is indiscernible but in a diamond shape. The box measures 1-5/8 inches wide by 1-3/8 inches wide by 1 inch deep (4.2 cm across by 3.5 cm width by 2.5 cm high). Dating to 1869 and of French origin, it is a remarkable work of art of surprising quality and historical significance.
The eye is painted from the eye of the fourth son of King Louis-Philippe of France and one of 10 children. Prince Louis was born in 1814 and died in Versailles in 1896. During the years between 1848-1871, he tried to unite exiled royalists and restore a monarchy after his father abdicated the throne. Elected Kind of the Belgians in 1831, his father however, refused the crown for him. Nemours was a colonel in the cavalry and fought in the various expeditions in Algeria and in the siege of Antwerp. He became regent of France in 1842, but his conservatism and general unpopularity worked against him in many respects and overall a restoration of the monarchy failed. He married Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Part of the Bourbon family since the 17th century, that family itself dates to the 13th century and the Bourbons were one of the more historically important and influential families of Europe.
The marriage to Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha produced two children, Count Louis Philippe Marie Gaston D’Orleans, comte D’Eu who married Princess Isabele, infanta of Brazil and a son Ferdinand, duc (duke) D’alencon, who married Sophia, duchess of Bavaria.
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